Effectiveness Bank bulletin 30 October 2013

Three analyses challenge the perception that addiction is a chronic disease, showing that outside the clinic remission is often rapid, and even the severest end of the spectrum who resort to treatment services commonly recover. At their heart are national US surveys, particularly the NESARC survey in the first entry. This is analysed along with other national surveys in the next entry, while the third and last spreads its net across these and hundreds of other studies. The message from each is an optimistic one.

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Dependence looks chronic only if vision narrowed to treatment populations
Why is addiction so often seen as a chronic disease? It could be because most of the studies and most dependent users who come to light derive from treatment services. Findings from the largest ever US national survey of drink and drug problems show that outside the clinic, remission was the norm, but the kind of dependent drinkers seen by treatment services took much longer to recover.

US surveys show addiction is not a progressive disease
Innovative re-analysis of US national surveys reveals that no matter how long ago someone became dependent on an illegal drug or alcohol, their chances of achieving remission remain the same. These important findings challenge medical and psychological models which assume that progressive neural, lifestyle or psychological changes increasingly lock someone in to addiction.

Recovery is the norm
How common is recovery from dependence and other substance use disorders? Can we realistically hold out not just the possibility but the likelihood of recovery, even to dependent users whose problems are severe enough for specialist treatment? The message of this synthesis of hundreds of studies is that "Recovery is not an aberration achieved by a small and morally enlightened minority ... If there is a natural developmental momentum ... it is toward remission and recovery".

Sent by the Drug and Alcohol Findings Effectiveness Bank to alert you to site updates and UK-relevant evaluations and reviews of drug/alcohol interventions. Managed by DrugScope, Alcohol Concern and the National Addiction Centre. Supported by Alcohol Research UK and the J. Paul Getty Jr. Charitable Trust.